Tomorrow is Spider-Man: Far From Home’s initial digital home release, marking the first time you can own all 23 films in the Infinity Saga, most of them in glorious 4K HDR. But which ones really deserve to be in your collection? As a self-designated expert on the subject, I’m here to rank them all.
Before we get started, a couple quick caveats: First, we’re not rating which movies have the best 4K adaptation. The older movies were made before 4K movies were really a thing for home viewers, and a lot of complicated work goes into remastering them. We’re not reviewing that work. Instead, we’re looking at the content of the films themselves to decide which ones really need 4K to begin with.
We’ll also be ranking using tier lists rather than individual rankings. Because I don’t want to get into an argument over whether Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Thor: Ragnarok are better. They’re both amazing. Keep in mind, though, that physical Blu-rays will always get you a better picture than digital streaming. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
If there’s a color in this film’s palette that director James Gunn didn’t use in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, scientists haven’t found it yet. Virtually every frame of this movie is an HDR-optimized painting that makes use of all the detail your fancy new TV can throw at it. It’s also the first movie Marvel released in 4K from the start, as opposed to a remaster down the road. Any movies newer than this one have a higher chance of being worth the money (and thus will rank a little higher on our tier list), but this was a hell of a way to kick off the trend.
Taika Waititi’s debut in the MCU, Thor: Ragnarok, is part wacky space adventure and part viking metal music video. From the very first scene of Thor breaking out of Muspelheim, every scene is bright, colorful, and detailed. Plus who couldn’t use a few more pixels of Chris Hemsworth?
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War has a few dull, flat scenes visually (such as the street-level fight with Iron Man and Doctor Strange at the beginning), but most of the film has some of the most lavish and detailed special effects of the entire franchise. They spent a lot of money on getting Thanos’ five o’clock shadow just right, so you may as well drop a few extra bucks on the highest-quality version.
Creating the fictional nation of Wakanda in Black Panther required a level of creativity and design expertise that many Marvel movies struggle to achieve. From the sweeping landscapes of the city to the colorful outfits on the crowds at T’Challa’s coronation ceremony, there’s a wealth of detail you can only catch on the 4K Blu-Ray.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
The latest MCU film (and potentially Spidey’s last in the MCU?) ostensibly brings the action back down to Earth after the interstellar events of Endgame. Visually, the film is anything but terrestrial. Without getting into spoiler territory, Mysterio brings an otherworldly aesthetic and one of the most abstract, Ditko-esque set pieces we’ve seen since Doctor Strange. For that scene alone (but thankfully, many more), it’s earned every pixel you pay for. The digital release is tomorrow, but you can pre-order the Blu-ray right here and get it October 1st.
For a big, climactic end cap on a cinematic universe 10 years in the making, Endgame sure spends a lot of its run time playing around indoors, or revisiting older, somewhat less-impressive looking sets from previous films. It may be good filmmaking, but it doesn’t necessarily meet our criteria of being visually impressive. It would almost be enough to knock it down a tier (do you really need to see Thor: The Dark World from an alternate 4K angle?), but the last third of the movie pushes it up over the edge. With thousands of characters on screen, and few of them wasted, it’s a dream for those who like to pause the movie and spot every little thing the animators put in there.
Spider-Man: Homecoming managed to squeak into the era of 4K-first movies, just after Guardians 2 which gives it an edge. The vertigo-inducing Washington Monument scene, plus the glitchy LED airplane climax are gorgeous in 4K HDR, though much of the movie takes place in suburbs, school hallways, or in the dark. All good for telling a great Spider-Man story, but it does cut down on some of the visual indulgence.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Like its predecessor, the original Guardians of the Galaxy was a visual treat, introducing creative concepts like the net of Nova ships that hold back Ronan’s ship, or the explosive fireworks show of the Power Stone. However, the first Guardians had the misfortune of coming out before Marvel hopped on the 4K train, so the color grading and remastering aren’t quite what they could be if they were aiming for 4K HDR from the start.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is widely regarded as having some of the best action scenes in any Marvel movie. For that alone, it deserves to be in your library. Like the first Guardians, it came out just a bit too early for the original 4K treatment—plus its color palette is intentionally crushed to give it that political thriller feel—so it’s not quite as high as it could be, but it’s still a worthwhile buy.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Say what you will about Avengers: Age of Ultron’s story, but it upped the visual ante from the previous Avengers film in a big way. From the unique design of Vision to the blasts of color throughout, the film stood out among its peers at the time in terms of visual candy.
Captain America: Civil War
Like Winter Soldier before it, Captain America: Civil War brings the Russo brothers’ flair for action to a gritty political thriller, but this time everyone is invited. It was one of the first times we got to see a semi-large scale battle between super powered heroes and the airport battle alone was one of most indulgent action scenes Marvel’s put to film. It drops a bit of points for its sometimes flat color grading, but it still deserves to be high on the list.
Releasing Doctor Strange in anything other than 4K felt like a bit of a crime when it came out. Its Inception-style mind-bending effects brought an entirely new dimension (literally) to the MCU’s effects. Getting a glimpse into all the movie’s fine reflections and refractions in 4K is worth the price of admission. However, it still would’ve been better if Marvel had solved its color grading problem just a bit earlier.
Ant-Man & The Wasp
I hate to do it to my boy Paul Rudd, but Ant-Man & The Wasp suffers just a bit visually from spending more time in office buildings and on streets, than in its more dynamic locations like the borderline-mystical Quantum Realm. The movie is already a middling-to-fun follow up heist film, but aside from size antics, it doesn’t offer a lot that makes full use of the 4K medium.
The Avengers should really be higher. Right? I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. But we’re not talking about how good the movie is, we’re talking about how well it makes use of the 4K medium. And unfortunately, not only do later movies make this Avengers movie feel relatively low-budget, but the added detail can actually make the effects look worse. You start to notice when RDJ isn’t really wearing his helmet, or Thor’s suit looks more like foam than metal forged in the heart of a dying star. It’s still worth watching in high quality, just...not as worth it as other movies.
Thor: The Dark World
Roast me if you must for putting Thor: The Dark World anywhere near the original Avengers, but this film has some genuinely beautiful moments, like Frigga’s funeral, or just exploring more of Asgard. The setting choices alone give it points, though it still suffers from the same poor color grading and 4K remastering as older Marvel movies.
Twice in one tier? Come on, man. Ant-Man shows up again in the B-tier in his first outing. The film has some neat looking moments, like the heist of Pym Technologies, but it still lacks some of the visual flair later movies have. Plus, how much more detail do you really want to see hordes of ants in?
Captain Marvel feels like it should be higher on the list, being a colorful, space-faring origin story. However, many of its biggest action set pieces take place in dark corridors or darker, dusty planets where you can’t see much. The effects in the final space battle, unfortunately, aren’t the best Marvel’s ever done either. Seeing the Kree home world and getting a good look at the intriguing Skrulls is worth some points, but there are other, more visually appealing movies in Marvel’s stable.
Captain America: The First Avenger
By a hair’s breadth, Captain America: The First Avenger manages to sneak into the B-tier. It came out at a time when Marvel’s budget was still more limited, and it hadn’t quite found its groove. However, the World War II aesthetic, positively dripping over every frame of the film, gives it a unique look among its peers at the time. Plus, Red Skull never looked so good.
Iron Man 2
It’s an unfair fact of the universe that the older a movie is, the less its effects likely stand up. In Iron Man 2's case, however, it’s not just age, but a bland design aesthetic working against it. Most of the action scenes feature similar-looking metal suits or identical-looking drones firing at each other in dimly lit set pieces. The film has more story problems than visual ones, but it’s still not the best-looking film, even for its time.
Iron Man 3
In retrospect, it’s strange that Iron Man’s solo trilogy ended so early in the MCU, but its final film, Iron Man 3 kicked off Phase 2 with a bit of a dour whimper. The climactic finale with literal dozens of suits of armor flying about was a bit of a spectacle, but not only are many of the previous action scenes fairly contained, often Tony Stark isn’t in his famed suit at all. The emotional development of the character in this film may be a bit underrated (in my opinion don’t @ me), but you can’t upscale character development into 4K HDR.
It may have kicked off the MCU, but the first Iron Man did so with a low budget and, allegedly, a lot of improv. Plus the final act takes place in the middle of the night, where a black mechanical man fights a slightly less dark mechanical man. There’s not a lot to look at here in the first place, so the regular HD version will probably be fine.
The Incredible Hulk
Hey, do you remember that Ed Norton used to be The Incredible Hulk? You wouldn’t know it from the old Hulk design. Not much of this movie stands up, but the effects least of all. There’s a reason this movie isn’t brought up much these days, so you can hold off on buying the latest upscaling unless you’re a stickler for completion.
The first Thor may have given us a character we eventually grew to love, but it was so forgettable you probably didn’t realize that the image above is actually from the second Thor movie. That’s in no small part because there’s not much to look at in the first one. Thor spends much of the movie de-powered, in a desert on Earth. If you want to spend more to get a good look at Asgard, you can start at The Dark World onward.